NBA Draft 2020: What a trade up to the No. 1 pick looks like for OKC Thunder
The Thunder has the No. 25 pick in the NBA draft on Nov. 18.
One selection in the back end of the first round pales in comparison to the draft capital OKC owns over the next seven years courtesy of the Paul George and Russell Westbrook trades. The Thunder has hoarded 13 first-round picks through 2026.
What to do with all of those picks? At some point, a few might be bundled together in a trade for a prize player or top pick.
ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony reported Monday that the Thunder — along with the Bulls and Pistons — is a “popular pick among executives” to make a move for Minnesota’s No. 1 pick next week, where LaMelo Ball is mostly likely to be taken.
Such a splash seems highly improbable, but the Thunder is often in the middle of shocking trades.
Ball, a 6-foot-7 point guard, is known for his premier passing and ball handling with room for improvement as an outside shooter and especially as a defender. He averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 12 games last season for the Illawarra Hawks in Australia’s National Basketball League.
At 19, LaMelo is the youngest of the Ball brothers. Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, just finished his third NBA season. LiAngelo, the middle brother, signed a G League contract with the Oklahoma City Blue in March.
The NBA’s trade moratorium is expected to be lifted a day or two before the draft. If the Thunder is indeed inquiring about the No. 1 pick, here’s what a deal with the Timberwolves might look like:
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Thunder trades: Chris Paul, Hamidou Diallo, 2020 first-round pick (No. 25 via Nuggets), 2021 first-round pick (via Heat or Rockets), 2024 first-round pick (via Clippers)
Timberwolves trade: 2020 first-round pick (No. 1), James Johnson
Who says no?: Paul, and probably the Timberwolves.
Paul accepted being in Oklahoma City for a season, but he probably doesn’t want to spend another year with a small-market team, especially one that’s made the playoffs just once in the last 16 years. The Thunder will likely work with Paul to trade him somewhere he wants to play. And remember, it’s far from a certainty that Paul will be dealt before the Dec. 22 start to the season.
It’s hard to understand the Timberwolves’ motivation for a trade like this. If they want to win now, led by Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, adding a player like Paul puts them in the playoff conversation. But Paul is 10 years older than Minnesota’s two best players, and the Timberwolves would be banking on Paul to stay healthy at age 35, and to again perform at an All-NBA level.
With Russell and Towns signed through 2023 and 2024, Minnesota could keep the No. 1 pick and add to its relatively young core.
In a draft without an obvious No. 1 selection, the Thunder would have to be extremely high on Ball — or Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman — to vault itself up the board.
But at what price? Even in a subpar draft, the No. 1 pick is immensely valuable. The Timberwolves should ask for a handful of future first rounders, headlined by the Clippers’ unprotected first-round pick in 2024, or the Rockets’ lightly protected 2024 first-round pick. Both are far enough out that they could be valuable lottery picks given the uncertainty in Los Angeles and Houston.
The Thunder could add Hamidou Diallo or Abdel Nader if Minnesota wants help on the wing, but that plus Paul and three first-rounders still might not be enough.
Veteran power forward James Johnson has a player option for $16 million next season. For the money in the deal to work, Johnson would pick up the option and head to Oklahoma City.
Thunder trades: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Timberwolves trade: 2020 first-round pick (No. 1)
Who says no?: The Thunder.
The trade idea was brought up on the podcast of ESPN’s Zach Lowe. It’s a logical place for Minnesota to start the bidding, but it’s hard to imagine the offer being entertained by Sam Presti. It’s trading the known for the unknown.
Gilgeous-Alexander has established himself as a rising star. He averaged 19 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season at age 21. Dealing him would also be a blow to the fan base, which already sees Gilgeous-Alexander as the franchise’s next cornerstone.
The only way the trade makes sense is if the Thunder views Ball as a can’t-miss superstar, and views Gilgeous-Alexander as a fringe star who’s better suited as a second option. The Timberwolves, to some degree, would have to believe the opposite.
It’s asking a lot for the Timberwolves to fall from No. 1 to No. 25 in this draft with no assurances that the future picks heading Minnesota’s way will be valuable lottery selections.
That’s where a third team could come in. The Knicks pick eighth and the Suns pick 10th, and both New York and Phoenix have been rumored landing spots for Paul.
If the Thunder can move Paul for No. 8 or No. 10, it’s more reasonable to find a path to then trade one of those top-10 picks for No. 1.